President Biden vowed to bridge the partisan political divide but, struggling to garner Republican support for major bills, his administration appears to be changing the narrative by redefinining what “bipartisan” means.
First, Biden’s $1.9 trillion coronavirus relief package passed without a single GOP vote, and now his massive infrastructure package is facing strong Republican opposition in Washington. Biden insists he does enjoy support from both parties, however, pointing to Republican voters and officials outside the Beltway.
“If you looked up ‘bipartisan’ in the dictionary, I think it would say support from Republicans and Democrats,” senior Biden adviser Anita Dunn told the Washington Post. “It doesn’t say the Republicans have to be in Congress.”
Biden senior adviser Mike Donilon pointed to the president’s new definition of “bipartisan” as “an agenda that unifies the country and appeals across the political spectrum.”
“I think it’s a pretty good definition to say you’re pursuing an agenda that will unite the country, that will bring Democrats and Republicans together across the country,” Donilon told the Post. “Presumably, if you have an agenda that is broadly popular with Democrats and Republicans across the country, then you should have elected representatives reflecting that.”
Former Obama chief of staff Rahm Emanuel remarked on the shift, telling the newspaper, “What’s become crystal clear is that Biden has redefined bipartisan.” The former Chicago mayor explained that, “it isn’t how many Republicans I’ve got,” but “about how many Republican voters or mayors and governors can I get to support my stuff.”
“And Washington is slow to catch up to the Biden definition,” he added.
Biden acknowledged the shift toward the public and away from Republican officials when discussing his American Jobs Plan in Pittsburgh at the end of March.
“When I wrote it, everybody said I had no bipartisan support. We’re overwhelming bipartisan support with Republican – registered Republican voters,” Biden said. “And ask around. If you live in a town with a Republican mayor, a Republican county executive, or a Republican governor, ask them how many would rather get rid of the plan. Ask them if it helped them at all.”
The president then added: “I hope Republicans in Congress will join this effort.”
The changing definition of “bipartisan” comes at a time when Democrats have been justifying the substance of the infrastructure bill by redefining the meaning of “infrastructure.”
Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand, D-N.Y., was the first to draw attention when she tweeted, “Paid leave is infrastructure. Child care is infrastructure. Caregiving is infrastructure.”
This led to a chorus of criticism and mockery from lawmakers and pundits from both sides of the political spectrum.
“Abortion is infrastructure. Gun control is infrastructure. Forced unionization is infrastructure. Whatever the Left wants is infrastructure. You know what’s not? Roads & bridges.,” Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, tweeted, stating that only 5% of the infrastructure bill actually dealt with roads and bridges.
Keith Olbermann, the liberal former MSNBC host, said that while he agrees the issues Gillibrand listed are important, they are decidedly not infrastructure.
“[W]hen you drain a word of it’s meaning, you damage its impact, your cause, and the value of language,” Olbermann said.
Energy Secretary Jennifer Granholm continued the trend on Sunday, telling ABC’s “This Week” that lawmakers need to rethink the meaning of infrastructure.
“It’s not static. In 1990 we wouldn’t have thought that broadband was infrastructure because it wasn’t on the scene yet, but of course we have broadband in every pocket of the nation,” Granholm said. She then added that “we don’t want to use past definitions of ‘infrastructure’ when we are moving into the future.”
The same day, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., told CBS’ “Face the Nation” that Democrats would not limit the infrastructure bill to cover roads, bridges and waterways “because infrastructure is – it’s about education, about getting children healthily in school with separation, sanitation, ventilation. It’s about investments in housing as well.”
Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg told NBC’s “Meet the Press” last week that the Biden administration would like to have bipartisan legislative support for the infrastructure bill, but indicated that a lack of it would not stop them.
“We can’t let politics slow this down to where it doesn’t actually happen,” he said.
Fox News’ Peter Aitken contributed to this report.